The downside of 'everyone wins'

Two of four vendors last week declined to take part in what the Navy has billed as a $2.9 billion telecommunications equipment and services buy. AT&T Government Markets and Bell Atlantic Federal Systems said they feared their awards under the Navy's Vivid program were too small to be worth their investment. While two winners Lucent Technologies and GTE Government Systems Corp. see much opportunity in Vivid the withdrawal of two winners has been a startling reminder that contracts are just licenses to sell.

One year after the dawning of a new era in procurement industry and government alike applaud most aspects of streamlining efforts. However the proliferation of multiple-award contracts has proven a difficult business case for many potential and winning bidders. A multibillion-dollar program is less impressive when carved up by multiple winners. Add to that the other governmentwide vehicles that compete for the same business and the value of winning a contract can be quite misleading.

This strategy will backfire on agencies if some of their top suppliers unable to gauge the true worth of prospective business choose to leave the opportunity on the table.

The federal acquisition community needs to head off this problem. A simple solution would be for agencies on the front end of a procurement to help match the users' needs with available funds and give bidders a more accurate picture of the business in question. Both sides would win if there were a better match between opportunity and offering.

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